Australia isn’t the only destination chasing the lucrative Chinese tourist market.
The nation’s peak business lobby has urged the federal government to use the budget to lift the number of tourists coming to Australia, a move which it claims could generate another 123,000 jobs by 2020.
In its pre-budget submission the Australian Chamber of Commerce urged the government to streamline visa processes for key tourism markets, axe a so-called backpacker tax and extend freezes on passenger movement and visa charges.
ACCI also wants more funding for Tourism Australia – the peak lobby for the sector – and more frontline Border Force staff numbers to cut waiting times at Australian airports.
Steve Whan, who manages the ACCI’s National Tourism Council, said tourist visas were more expensive and complicated to obtain compared with many of Australia’s rival tourism markets.
“This discourages visitors from China, India and Indonesia, our key growth markets,” Mr Whan said. “The government has made some progress, but there is much more to be done.”
Last week Crown Resorts chairman Robert Rankin said Australia’s visa costs were more expensive than the US and processing of visas could be simplified.
Mr Rankin said Australia, and Western Australia in particular, needed to compete aggressively if it wanted to boost its share of Chinese tourists.
New Tourism Australia chairman Tony South is concerned told AFR Weekend Australia risks missing the peak of a once-in-a-generation tourism wave from China and urged cuts to visa costs and making them easier to get.
“The competition around visa rules and visa relaxations are intense,” Mr South said in his first wide-ranging interview since taking the helm of the organisation.
Mr Whan said the tourism industry had the potential to directly employ at least a further 123,000 people by 2020.
“It provides great careers and supports Australia’s high living standards. But there is strong competition from other nations to attract visitors,” he said.
“We need effective promotion and policy settings to grow our share of inbound visitors.”
The ACCI’s submission suggests the government grant a second-year extension to working holidaymakers who spend at least three months working in regional tourism and hospitality businesses.
It has also calls for reforms to the Tourist Refund Scheme to allow competition by private refund operators and recommends axing the “backpacker tax” by reinstating the tax-free threshold for working holidaymakers.
Mr Rankin said Perth, where Crown is spending $645 million building a 6-star hotel, needed to be activated in a profound way as a gateway to Western Australia to better capitalise on its proximity to growing Southeast Asian economies.
Western Australia attracted just 33,000 of China’s 115 million outbound tourists last year. About 1 million Chinese tourists visited the east coast of Australia.
“We think domestic consumption is going to continue to grow dramatically and there will be 200 million outbound Chinese tourists sometime in the next decade,” Mr Rankin told a Deutsche Bank lunch in Perth last week.
He called for reforms to visa fees, simplifying the visa process and encouraging more direct flights from “markets with scale”.
Mr Whan said the federal government needed to keep its spending in check, but investing in tourism could return significant income to the government and the boost the economy.
“With the right policy settings and international conditions tourism will be a star performer in our economy for many years to come,” Mr Whan said.
Source: Financial Review, Reporter: Julie-anne Sprague